Wednesday night, quickly and quietly, Associated Students Legislative Council changed a constitutional amendment on next week’s ballot to correct a small and quite consequential error.

That error was a typo in the mathematical formula used in the “Sliding Scale Elections” amendment, a ballot measure that would reduce the percentage of “yes” votes required to pass future measures proportional to voter turnout. The typo, which caused a subtraction to be used in place of a multiplication, produces results that would be, in technical terms, completely out of whack.

The misplaced minus sign went undetected by A.S. Elections Committee, Leg Council, A.S. staff advisers and an informal review by the Campus Elections Commission. Leg Council became aware of the error after the Daily Nexus informed them of it.

The minus sign was lost in the translation from longhand to print, said the sliding scale’s author, Off-Campus Representative Alexis Krieg.

“When I wrote it out longhand I used a dot as my multiplication symbol and then transcribed it to my computer and entered it in as a minus symbol because my handwriting sucks,” Krieg said.

Krieg said she based her sliding scale on the campuswide sliding scale that was put in place in 1989 by then-Chancellor Barbara Uhleing for an election containing lock-in fees to fund construction of the UCen and RecCen. After Krieg wrote her equation by hand, she typed it up and took it around for others to check.

“No one checked it. I went to [Associate Dean of Students and adviser to the Campus Elections Commission] Joe Navarro for almost an hour; he didn’t notice. I went to [A.S. staff member] Pamela Van Dyke; she didn’t notice. [A.S. Executive Director] Don Daves-Rougeaux; he didn’t notice. None of my fellow council members checked it. I tried crunching the numbers, realized they weren’t working, but couldn’t fix it because I couldn’t find a document I needed. No one could confirm to me that there was even a problem,” she said.

Before Leg Council altered the amendment, Krieg said she was worried it wouldn’t be changed before the election, in which case she said the error was so bad, “it would have to either be removed from the ballot or everyone should vote against it because it’s wrong.”

Daves-Rougeaux said that in the future he would encourage members of student government to “utilize the A.S. staff as a resource when they draft bills and legislation.”

“In defense of the author, I think that she was attempting to simplify the formula and make it clearer.”

Under A.S.’ current constitution, ballot measures such as fee hikes and constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of voters, and 20 percent of undergraduates must vote for an election to be valid. The sliding scale would leave that two-thirds requirement intact for an election with only a 20 percent turnout but for anything over that it would reduce the “yes” percentage needed for a measure to pass. It sets up a scale with a 20 percent turnout on one end and on the other the average voter turnout over the last five years. If the average number of students show up to vote, ballot measures only need 50.01 percent “yes” vote to pass. If fewer than the average but more than 20 percent of students vote, a measure needs, in theory, a “yes” vote between 66.67 and 50.01 percent.

The formula, in a simplified form, looks like this: Y=66.67-(16.67((C-20)/(A-20))), in which Y equals the required “yes” percentage, C equals the voter turnout for the election in question and A equals the average voter turnout for the last five years.

So, if the average voter turnout is 28 percent but only 24 percent of voters turn out, a measure would need a “yes” vote of 58.34 percent. That, at least, is how it’s supposed to work.

Thanks to a typo, A.S.’ equation, simplified, looked like this: Y=66.67-(16.67-((C-20)/(A-20))).

In that formula, with the same average and voter turnout as before, a measure would need a “yes” vote of 50.5 percent. With an undergraduate student body of 17,000 students, that’s a 320-vote screw-up.

It gets worse. Instead of sliding from 66.67 to 50.01 percent, this scale slid from 50.01 to 50.99 percent – not only is the range too small but it slides in the wrong direction, thanks to a typo.

It was a tricky sort of error, said Garrett Glasgow, a political science professor who teaches advanced statistics.

“This might actually be a hard error to spot if you aren’t looking for mistakes,” Glasgow wrote in an e-mail interview. “The formula was a bit complicated, so I think the tendency of most people would be to basically skip over it and trust the author. If the equation had been written in a clearer way … the mistake would have been easier to see. This is just simple algebra – junior high stuff, I think.”

Unlike the A.S. sliding scale amendment, which reduces the existing “yes” vote threshold for more voters, Glasgow said he thinks the best use of a sliding scale might be to increase the “yes” threshold during low voter turnouts.

“The sliding scale makes it harder to pass something when turnout is low, which should in theory make it harder for special interest groups to place obscure things on the ballot and get them passed,” Glasgow wrote. “I’m not sure, but sliding scale elections may have been designed with this in mind, which assumes there are interest groups that would want to take advantage of low turnout to get their pet projects passed.

“I like seeing this experimentation with different forms of democracy – really interesting from a political science perspective!”